## Wednesday, September 28, 2005

### HUP

Raise your hand: How many of you have heard of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (HUP)?

The form you're most likely familiar is: dx dp > constant. In words, the more information you have about an object’s position (x), the less information you can have about it’s momentum (p) [at a particular moment in time]. The less familiar form, but mathematically equivalent, is: dE dt > constant. In this version, E is energy and t is time.

I hate when people misuse the HUP or draw a feeble analogy to something completely unrelated.
But I’m going to do that now, because I’m trying to write a brief statement of a very general idea for a dissertation topic, and I’m running into trouble. Here’s the problem. Say I am interested in a long time period – 40 years or so. Say I am also interested in a topic of wide scope– say “print culture in American physics”.

It would seem to me that one would have to pick a narrow topic (read: graduate-level textbook publication in American high energy physics) and a long time period (40 years) OR a broad topic (print culture in American physics) and a short time period (5 years).

So we have the Dissertation Inequality Principle (DIP): dS dt < constant. Note the inequality is inverted. The broader the topical scope of the dissertation thematically (S), the shorter the time period you can consider (t), and vice versa. Having a wide scope and a time frame – in other words, attempting some sort of synthetic work – would violate the DIP. A dissertation that violates the DIP is more than likely bound for the morgue. (No pun intended.)

And with that, I have fulfilled my daily mathematics quota and sufficiently annoyed myself by bastardizing a perfectly good scientific rule into a historical rule.

## Monday, September 26, 2005

### School's back

Hi y'all -

I'm back in The States. The day I came back, I started packing and two days later I was inhabiting my new house. It's a pretty great house. 6 people, 6 rooms, 1 backyard. Very real-world-esque. I have a shared balcony and my very own bathroom.

School starts today, but classes start on Thursday. Go figure. I haven't exactly decided on what classes I'm going to take.

Once things get in full swing, I'll post more. This blog needs some rejuvination.

Sam.

## Thursday, September 22, 2005

### what the hell?

My two favorite Hal Hartley films, Trust and Flirt, are available on DVD only in an edition coded for play on Australian DVD players. Anyone know how to get past regional coding to play these on my computer? Is there a cheap and easy plug in?

## Friday, September 16, 2005

### With God On Their Side . . . Who Needs Data?

In the book Intelligent Design; the Bridge Between Science and Theology William Dembski writes that "Christ is indispensable to any scientific theory, even if its practitioners don't have a clue about him. The pragmatics of a scientific theory can, to be sure, be pursued without recourse to Christ. But the conceptual soundness of the theory can in the end only be located in Christ."

The proponents of so-called "Intelligent Design," who claim that creation should be taught side by side with evolution try their darndest to cloak ID in the mantle of scientific rhetoric and then to cloak science in the shroud of Turin. Yet a significant problem in the ID manifest is the utter absence of any empirical data whatsoever. ID can not take the guise of scientific theory, simply because there can be no experiment designed to test it, unless the religious Right has quite literally found a way to play god. All this is quite clear and so axiomatic among rational people that it hasn't bothered me the slightest and continues not to bother me.

What bothers me, if I may reason by analogy, is the vicious attacks by the right wing on so-called Marxists academics and the need to "eliminate" them from academia. But Marxist theory, at least from the approach of economics, has an ample supply of empirical data supporting it as a viable theory of economic (and social) organization. How is it that the same agents arguing for a spurious "choice" between pseudoscience and real science in the curriculum can argue for the utter elimination of theories which continue to impact the socio-economic and political conditions in much of the world? If every business school in the country were mandated by Congress to include Marxist economic theory in their curricula under the order of "objectivity," how would the Right react? Yet there is a more compelling rationale for that mandate than the one motivating ID advocates.

## Saturday, September 10, 2005

### Clinton and FEMA

Normally, I don't like the LA Weekly, and normally I don't like to get too far on the bandwagon of any politician. But, I have to say, in retrospect it's hard not to be amazed by this quote:

In any future administrations, I challenge you as members of Congress to never let a director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency be appointed and confirmed without having the background of emergency management and that experience.

--Bill Clinton mid way into his second term.

## Thursday, September 08, 2005

### last post for a while

i'm going to be leaving japan soon. hence the title for the post. tomorrow i spend the day traveling to the KEK (Japan's big particle accelerator laboratory) and get to view their archives, as well as take a tour INSIDE the accelerator (luckily they turn off the experiments during some of august and september to save electricity bills -- seriously).

the next day i fly home. i leave at 5:20pm and arrive around 11am, the same day. cool, huh.

tonight involved a festival, a MAJOR case of car problems, a good meal of "galic" pizza, cleaning and packing. i also got paid today! and one of my new friends here gave me the world's coolest action-figure. yes, it wears it's baseball cap backwards and polo shirts with the collar upturned. you know, just to annoy the readers of the volokh conspiracy.

upon returning home, i have to pack up my apartment and move to a house maybe 10 minutes away.

sam.

## Sunday, September 04, 2005

### Katrina and Danger

Eric Muller has posted a series of examples attempting to point out that the idea that two catastrophes hitting New Orleans at once actually were part of the Department of Homeland Security’s planning, despite insistence to the contrary. I would like to build off of that point to argue against what I take to be a near unquestioned assumption in post 9/11 politics. That is assumption is that terrorism represents the primary conceivable threat to American society, and even Western Civilization.

It is difficult to be certain about what might or might not happen in the future. From this vantage point future evidence could always prove me wrong. But it seems that the idea that terrorism represents the primary conceivable threat to Western Civilization is presented as an unconsidered presumption, not as a carefully evidenced contention. For example, consider the following passage Muller cites:

"Purple Crescent II Exercise is an exercise to test and evaluate the various agencies in Southeastern Louisiana and their ability to handle a major natural disaster such as a hurricane during a high terrorist threat environment. What happens when terrorist or would be hackers attempt to disrupt communications infrastructure concurrent with a natural disaster taking place in or around the City of New Orleans, Louisiana? The effects of a large natural disaster are already devastating as we are seeing along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Ivan made landfall. How much worse could it be if domestic or international terrorists attempted to impede preparations before the storm, or the recovery after the storm, by utilizing cyber-terrorism? All agencies, including government, law enforcement, EMS, public health, commercial banking, petro-chemical, and private enterprises are welcome to participate in this DHS monitored and supported exercise."

Notice here the underlying logic of this report. It may seem patently obvious now, that planning for a terrorist attack during a hurricane, is probably less critical than planning for a levy break after and as a result of hurricane conditions. But it’s very important to consider the underlying assumption behind this whole line of reasoning. The “natural disaster” is itself discounted and considered only as a subtext to what is supposedly the real threat, terrorism. But it’s not clear--or at least not obvious--that terrorism is a more dangerous threat than massive hurricanes, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

I don’t deny that September 11th proved that terrorism is important, or that there are terrorist organizations that seek to attack us. But it seems we’ve immediately moved from terrorists with box cutters hijacking planes into speculation about terrorists who follow hurricanes. September 11th did not demonstrate that terrorists are getting or are close to getting nuclear weapons. It did not demonstrate that they know when a natural disaster would strike. It did not demonstrate that they could collapse Western Civilization itself.

It is silly to ignore the undeniable fact that terrorists exist in this world. At the same time it is dangerous itself to lose all sense of proportionality about dangers. These dangers I would argue, include threats to our civil liberties from our efforts to fight terrorism, threats to our national budget and prosperity, and natural disasters. We must be level headed in a world where we never face only one threat, and the future is never clear from the present. And we must not allow ourselves to be terrorized into fixating single-mindedly about only Osama Bin Laden to the exclusion of all else.

### my very own personal website!

Thanks to inspiration from Early Modern Notes (see post below), I sat down for a few hours today and banged out a homepage using Frontpage. I'm really impressed with Frontpage. I know pretty much nothing about anything when it comes to computers, and I was able to easily (seriously, in two-or-three nanoseconds) create my very own webpage.

From scratch. No template garbage.

Here it is: http://www.bol.ucla.edu/~samjshah/

As you can see, it's not done yet. I want to make it into a set of resources for me to use when doing my dissertation work, but also make it into a good set of resources for a historian of science.

## Saturday, September 03, 2005

### you want to make your library portable?

There are a lot of cool internet resources out there.

But I think Sharon Howard at Early Modern Notes pointed out a neat site: CiteULike. (I can't seem to find Sharon's original posting to link to, which maybe makes me think I might be wrong about this. But I swear it was from EMNs.) The website describes it like this:

CiteULike is a free service to help academics to share, store, and organise the academic papers they are reading. When you see a paper on the web that interests you, you can click one button and have it added to your personal library. CiteULike automatically extracts the citation details, so there's no need to type them in yourself. It all works from within your web browser. There's no need to install any special software.

Because your library is stored on the server, you can access it from any computer. You can share you library with others, and find out who is reading the same papers as you. In turn, this can help you discover literature which is relevant to your field but you may not have known about.

When it comes to writing up your results in a paper, you can export your library to either BibTeX or Endnote to build it in to your bibliography.

I can't decide if it is going to be really useful or just a fun thing to play around with for a while. Yesterday night I looked at years upon years worth of the journal Social Studies of Science and made a bibliography of a slew of articles that I might want to slay. Yeh-shah! (The site naturally hooks up with JSTOR, among other article databases.)

There are three things I think is kind of neat about this free service, and a half thing that will be neat if it happens.

(1) It is a place for you to compile all your "I want to read this" articles, so you don't see it once, think -- wow, this would be neat if I ever have time -- and forget about it.

(2) You can enter your own citations for articles not included in the databases that CiteULike does not link up to. Which means that this site can become your "I read that and now I have a list of all the articles I read"

(3) It allows you to upload your own PDFs (that only you can see, of course), which means you can access them from anywhere. So you can upload all the papers you've ever read, if you have them in PDF form. (Currently there is no limit on the number of PDFs you can upload, but that's certainly to change.)

(3 1/2) There is an effort to make a full text search on all the PDFs in your bibliography collection.

Cool, huh? Sharon also uses del.icio.us:

del.icio.us is a social bookmarks manager. It allows you to easily add web pages you like to your personal collection of links, to categorize those sites with keywords, and to share your collection not only among your own browsers and machines, but also with others.

I might try this out. I'm thinking maybe I have been inspired enough by EMNs to make a "academic homepage", and archive my academic life from here on out. So when I go back and want to see what I read, what I thought of it, what bibliographies I made, what internet resources there are out there, etc., I can just go to this page. A very tame version of Sharon's very untame page.

### Dear Blogosphere

Dear Blogosphere,

I've been getting really homesick recently. The past few days have been at best: confusing, and at worst: entirely depressing, and all I want to do now is return to Los Angeles and be with my friends.

However (cue swoopy droopy violin music) it finally dawned upon me that a number of my really good friends are gone. Packed up and left. You know, the Greener Pastures Syndrome which I would conjecture afflicts almost every graduate student from time to time. And normally I would pick myself up, dust off my shoulders, and move on.

But these friends are the ones that I needed to have around: the kind that you know there is more to your friendship than just academics. Or in spite of academics. Or totally unrelated to academics. [1] Maybe I should try to explain this in a different way. The kind that make you feel like an actual twenty-something human being with a pseudo-life instead of a maladjust. And yes, I just coined that word.

And what’s even worse, and maybe some of you out there can commiserate, is the fact that I lost contact with a good proportion of my very few friends because of my damn-ed qualifying exams. I was so freaked out, so busy studying, that I barely made time to hang out. And I was so agitated and deer-in-the-headlights that I couldn’t have been much fun to be around anyway. I have a vague recollection of throwing up on someone in a state of panic. And maybe I fell asleep at a restaurant?

So I am going to put up a personal ad here for anyone who wants to be my friend. And I solemnly swear (I was a cub scout once, so you know this has to count for something) that I will not urk upon you.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Hobbies and Interests:
partial differential equations, josef albers, mondriaan, rothko, envelopes and letters, label makers, “dancing” in my bedroom, rearranging my bedroom, cutting my own hair, the getty, t.s. eliot, concerts, stereolab, history of science. also currently the colors yellow, blue, and grey in concert.

Favorite Books:
surely you're joking mr. feynman, atlas shrugged (it was important to me in high school), the love song of j. alfred prufrock, genius, son of the morning, victorian sensation, in search of respect, the science studies reader, ideals varieties and algorhithms, light in august, drawing theories apart

Favorite Movies:
28 days later, SLC punk!, pirates of the caribbean, varsity blues, amelie, gosford park, waiting for guffman, igby goes down, requium for a dream, brokenheartsclub, rushmore, royal tennenbaums, ghost world, punch drunk love, lost in translation

Favorite Music:
bright eyes, death cab, sondre lerche, tegan and sara, modest mouse, gwen stefani, moldy peaches, piebald, the format, saves the day, dismemberment, get up kids, leona naess, thursday, elliott smith, snow patrol, arcade fire, jem, new pornographers, postal service

Favorite TV Shows:
law and order, gilmore girls, the OC, alias, murphy brown, my so-called life, QAF, six feet under, real world, newsradio, futurama

Other:
im a grad student studying the history of science. i read a lot. it is sometimes fun but sometimes it is not. mainly its not fun when its late and im sleepy. so i drink lots of coffee. hence my love of small coffeeshops. i like dive bars but i do not drink much because i drive. i like listening to music. i like tv and i'm not ashamed to admit it. i like cool paper but i like cool envelopes way better. i archive my life. once one of my professors said 'i thought i had you figured out, but i don't think i do anymore'.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

This is totally weird, isn’t it? Because anyone in the set of people who might potentially become my friend will automatically not want to be my friend after doing this. And maybe it is even more dangerous. Maybe those people who are my friends now will break up with me.

Dude, Chris, come home so I don’t have to bleg for friends.

Sincerely,
Sam.

[1] Speaking of not speaking about academics: all my ponderings has led me to a first faint but shiny glimmer of an idea of a topic for a dissertation that traverses some of the issues/themes that I picked out in an earlier ranting. I was in the bathroom. All my really good ideas come to me in the shower. I bet that when working on my dissertation, I will be the cleanest graduate student in California.

But no, I won’t tell you what my idea is. Because I haven’t written it down yet because it happened in the shower.